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Prashant Bhushan is a lawyer and one of the senior leaders and brains behind the Anna Hazare-led anti-corruption movement for a stronger Lokpal bill. The movement is set to add a historic, new chapter in India's parliamentary democracy.
He spoke exclusively to rediff.com's Sheela Bhatt on the seventh day of Anna Hazare's fast. Bhushan, highly-respected for his conviction in fighting against corruption, for his honesty for the cause and for his obsession to pick up right causes without any fear, shares his passionate thoughts on the movement, on author Arundhati Roy and her opinion and three things in their Jan Lokpal Bill that are not negotiable.
You have never been associated directly with the masses. So far, your career trajectory has been to take up people's issues in the courtroom. This is very unusual for you, no?
Yes, it is very unusual for me in view of my background. You see, sometimes circumstances propel or compel you to be in this kind of situation. That's where I am. One can't shirk one's public duty even if it's not the situation with which you are very comfortable with.
If you feel that it is the movement, which is in the public interest where you can help and make a significant contribution then to shirk from that movement, mainly, because it's a little uncomfortable seems a little unfair. That's why one had to really get involved.
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You had been involved in many cases that were taken up by Maoists, Leftists and liberals -- issues that thinker and writer Arundhati Roy also supports. She came out openly in your favour when a CD against you was leaked. You have travelled a long way since last April. On Tuesday she wrote a column in The Hindu against the movement. She has reacted strongly against the idea of the Jan Lokpal bill that you are supporting. How do you take Roy's views?
I can understand where she is coming from. She has an instinctive fear of any movement, which is supported by the big media, by the middle-class and also supported by a section of the corporate world. She is expressing that.
She is swept away by that instinctive fear without really having the full appreciation of the people who are behind the movement. She knows me. But she doesn't know the other people. She doesn't know what is the essential spirit behind the movement. She doesn't know anything about Anna Hazare other than what she has read from here and there.
There is this section of Left-liberal intelligentsia which becomes fearful of too much flag-waving or Vande Mataram or Bharat Mata Ki Jai etc. Unfortunately, these slogans and flag-waving has been appropriated, to a large extent, by non-secular saffron organisations. What we are seeing today is the resurgence of patriotism and nationalism in this movement of the kind which we saw during the freedom struggle.
All kinds of people have got involved in it. There would be some people with saffron leanings also who have got involved in this movement.
But, the vast majority of people involved in the movement are not the people with saffron leanings or anything. Merely because the movement has some corporate support doesn't mean that it should be viewed with great suspicion or be discredited.
All corporates are not dishonest. Most corporates would like to do honest business. They are also victims of corruption. There are large numbers of corporations who are taking advantage of the climate that has been created.
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In the last two days some serious allegations have been made. You are the leading lawyer and brain behind the court case in the 2G scam. The allegation is
(Hastily asks the question) Which industrialist involved in the 2G scam is supporting the movement?
Anil Ambani? The charge is that since the 2G scam case is being prosecuted some people want to weaken the government.
Ambani has nothing to do with this movement. The government and Ambani are totally in cahoots. That's why Ambani has not been arrested. For somebody to think that Ambani is behind this movement to destabilise the government is absurd. The moment this government goes, Ambani is likely to be arrested. It is this United Progressive Alliance government that is protecting Ambani. This charge is completely over the top.
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You are, increasingly, facing opposition to the Jan Lokpal Bill from the intelligentsia. Arundhati Roy has completely denounced the Jan Lokpal bill. (Activist and National Advisory Committee member) Aruna Roy says people who dissent should also hear dissenting voices.
We have listened to all dissenting voices. We had seven to eight meetings with Aruna Roy, Nikhil De and other members of National Campaign for Peoples' Right to Information. We have heard their views. But, we feel that except the part about separating the Grievances Redressal Authority, all their other differences with us are not really valid objections. To think that the Lokpal will become a superpower or Frankenstein monster is not the correct understanding.
Today, the police or the Central Bureau of Investigation can investigate any Indian. The Income Tax department can prosecute anybody and everybody. Therefore, (compared to them) the Lokpal will have limited powers. The Supreme Court, today, has hundred times more power than what the Lokpal will have. Our Supreme Court can squash any law, can issue any direction to the government, can prosecute or jail anybody. But, nobody calls the Supreme Court a Frankenstein monster.
In fact, we have been campaigning from day one that the Supreme Court has to be accountable also. But these people want the Supreme Court to get away without any accountability, which is hundred times more powerful than the Lokpal. In fact, the Lokpal's only power is to investigate people for corruption.
Calling the Lokpal a superpower or that it is a danger to democracy seems to me that people have lost the wood for the trees. Merely because people like Aruna Roy are saying these things, it has become fashionable without understanding what it means.
Aruna Roy has lived her life for the people. When she speaks, people will listen.
That's why I am saying this has gained some credibility. Let us examine it on basis of logic. What logic they are giving? After all, should we not have a judiciary that is accountable? And, doesn't it need to be accountable to the body which is independent of the government and independent of the judiciary?
She (Aruna Roy) also agrees with that the Lokpal is, precisely, such an authority. Therefore, (continues in firm and loud voice) why should she object or anybody object to the judiciary being made accountable for investigation of corruption by the Lokpal? Specially, (softens voice), we have made additional safeguards of seven members of the Lokpal deciding whether to investigate the judge under question or not.
Watch out for the second part of the interview on Wednesday where Prashant Bhushan talks about the non-negotiable terms of the Jan Lokpal Bill